Is San Diego the last call for Bayern?
One by one the heavy hitters of that crop have eased themselves partially or completely out of a racing landscape now dominated by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Shared Belief was pulled up with an injury in an attempted money grab at Charles Town in April. Tonalist recently lost two in a row over a track he was previously invincible over. California Chrome dropped his only U.S. outing in February and is now out for the year after escapades overseas.
And then there's Bayern, a colt who had a legitimate claim to the three-year-old and Horse of the Year titles after beating the above three in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). The son of Offlee Wild hasn't beaten a single horse to the finish line in two starts -- the Churchill Downs (G2) and Metropolitan H. (G1) -- this season.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt will get his latest chance at redemption Saturday at Del Mar in the $200,000 San Diego H. (G2), a 1 1/16-mile prep for next month's Pacific Classic (G1).
If Bayern is indeed a horse who can not win without being on the lead or within a head at the first call, as all evidence presently shows, jockey Martin Garcia has no choice but to try and make the front at all costs. Bayern wasn't fast enough to do so on Derby Day at Churchill facing arguably the nation's best sprinter in Private Zone, and he couldn't keep pace with that same rival after stumbling at the start of the Met Mile.
Not having his own way, he simply quit. That's not unusual behavior -- check his running line from last year's Preakness (G1) and Travers (G1) -- but it's frustrating all the same for his connections and the betting public.
Bayern looks like the most capable of making the early lead in the San Diego, although recent Triple Bend (G1) runner-up Appealing Tale might have a lot to say about that and has drawn inside the Breeders' Cup winner.
Even if the pace scenario works to Bayern's advantage, the San Diego in general is no walk in the park. Catch a Flight, benefiting from Shared Belief and California Chrome's absence, was favored in the Gold Cup (G1) after back-to-back victories in the Precisionist (G3) and Californian (G2). He weakened to third that day, but could re-emerge as the circuit's best older horse in training with a bounce back to his best form.
Hoppertunity, who followed up a late-season win in the 2014 Clark H. (G1) with a score in the January 10 San Pasqual (G2), exits a tough beat to Hard Aces in the Gold Cup, but was a well-beaten third in the San Antonio (G2) and Stephen Foster H. (G1) in his two prior starts. The Baffert pupil will be there to pick up any pieces his stablemate might leave.
Sammy Mandeville finished within a length of Catch a Flight in the May 2 Precisionist, but has not raced after suffering a rough start in the Californian. Nowalking, a sharp first-level allowance winner at Santa Anita in early May, perhaps did as well as he could have when a distant third in his stakes debut, the $200,000 Mountainview H., over a speed-friendly Penn National track May 30. The Phil D'Amato trainee still has upside. Sahara Sky, a former leading sprinter on this circuit and past winner of the Met Mile, seems unlikely to find his former self while stretching out to two turns.
All eyes, however, will be on Bayern. Figuratively speaking, the San Diego might be his last call.
(Bayern photo: Bill Denver/Equi-Photo)